How many socks does the average Torontonian buy in one year? Estimate the market for kumquats in Tonga. How would you weigh your head? 

These are just a few case-based questions that a company could ask you during an interview. But what exactly is a case-based interview?

New industries, new interviews

Job interviews come in all forms but share a common goal: for you to demonstrate and communicate to an employer why you are the perfect person for the position.

Case-based interviews emphasize thinking on the spot. This is defined in contrast to behavioural interviews, which focus on your past behaviours to determine how you would solve problems in the future, and experience-based interviews, where you highlight your past performance. In case-based interviews, an employer assesses your problem-solving and analytical skills under pressure, using day-to-day challenges that the company likely already deals with. It is an increasingly popular interview style that’s used with the intention to see if you like the kind of work the company does, and to assess what it is like to work with you.

Business analytics questions range from market sizing — like Accenture’s example case, “Estimate the total number of dry cleaners in Philadelphia” — to Bain & Company’s general business analysis example, “Is opening a coffee shop in Cambridge, England a good idea?” In the past, this method of questioning was typically only used by management consulting firms like Bain & Company or Accenture, but it has now grown to be utilized by many companies in the business and tech worlds for roles in product management, human resources, or analytics. 

Before the interview

In an email to The Varsity, Katie Gay, a Rotman Commerce student who is an incoming consulting analyst at Accenture, detailed her own experience preparing for the company’s case-based interview process prior to being hired. “With preparing for a case-based interview, time is essential. Start early and give yourself as much time as you can to get comfortable with the material,” she wrote. 

Since traditional case questions for jobs in the business world involve solving a brief business conundrum on the spot with little to no prior information, Gay further emphasized the importance of preparation prior to the interview. “Have an interview buddy during the process that you can practice with, who is able to give you feedback on your interview strengths and weaknesses,” she added.

Although you might not know the details of the case you’ll be solving in advance, you can practise your critical thinking and presentation skills beforehand. Gay recommended that students use online resources, including resources from the university, to prepare. “There are specific frameworks that the majority of cases can be solved with, and being able to plug a problem into the proper framework correctly is half the battle!”

During the interview

Among the resources that the university recommends to prepare for job applications is MBACASE, a training resource focused on preparing for case-based interviews.

MBACASE deconstructs the main parts of a case interview into four key tips. First, during an interview involving a case question, clear and concise communication is necessary. Getting to the point quickly is just as essential as your explicit reasoning and logic. Next, working on the structure of the problem — dissecting the dilemma into the source of the problem, critical aspects, and then final recommendations — is another fundamental aspect of the process. 

Another vital factor is efficient analysis of the given situation — if you’re given datasets or graphs, it’s important to be able to quickly pull out important information to make valuable insights. Lastly, having the ability to integrate both the structure of the case and your analysis of the given data to combine and form a final recommendation is the final piece of how to nail a case-based interview. 

Results in the workplace

Beyond the usefulness of case-based interviews in finding good employees, Gay also perceives them as having a positive impact on workplace equity. “I think hiring based on skill is a good step forward in the hiring process,” wrote Gay. “This method reduces bias, increases diversity, [and] puts less focus on a potential hire’s education.”

In the end, Gay says the best piece of advice for anyone looking to prepare for a case-based interview is this: “Remember to be yourself, stay calm, and speak genuinely.”